Plex distributes an amazing free media server platform that can work across multiple platforms, though for certain ones you will need to fork over a few dollars for the player app that resides on the far end of the system. However, the server itself is free, and setup is pretty straight forward — add in your media libraries and tweak settings to your likings and you will be off and running.
If I were pressed to name a downside to this setup, it would be the end-user player software. Do not get me wrong, it works just fine and is not hard to understand, but it also is less than…shall we say, attractive? Function is present, beauty is not.
There is an alternative though — Serenity (not the geek TV show) is an app that uses the Plex API to create a beautiful, XBMC-like interface that replaces the rather unattractive Plex app. Well, replaces is not the correct word — it actually coexists with Plex as an alternative to it. Here is what you get.
Serenity for Google TV
The app contains a horizontal menu, complete with background images and categories for each form of media. There are also colorful splash pages for each piece of content.
The difference here, between Serenity and Plex is night and day. Plex is functional, and you will have no problem using it, but it has the basic look of the Windows software I was replacing.
The menu glides across the screen with new images for each media type. While it still runs (pulls its data) off of the Plex media server you set up, it adds a new, and much improved interface to the whole thing. Everything is still there, you lose none of your media capability, you just get a much nicer view of all of those files.
When Serenity is first launched it may throw you just a bit — it did me. Despite the fact that you have a Plex server up and running, it will insist on telling you that no server was found — do not panic. Just hit the “OK” button and you will enter “Settings”. From here, you can click “discover servers”, though it may remain grayed out for a bit. If you are in a rush, then simply choose the option to enter the IP address of the server, which is the route I would choose.
Serenity for Google TV costs $1.99 — slightly more than Plex. The app is also available for tablets, though the developer warns that “on a tablet it is recommended to use an external player like MX Player to provide support for codecs that aren’t native to the device”.